The Unwittingly Conditionally Pro-Life
Critics of the pro-life position will at times point to the seeming inconsistency of pro-lifers who support laws to prohibit abortion while opposing policies that would help create conditions beneficial to mothers and their unborn and born children, e.g., universal prenatal, postpartum, and pediatric care. There’s something to this, as being pro-life would seem to imply being in favor of the conditions that nurture and sustain life. There is, however, no logical contradiction in opposing abortion and also opposing public policies that would benefit the health and life of the unborn, and there may not even be an inconsistency, if the particular policies are opposed for prudent and legitimate reasons. I’m therefore usually unimpressed with these arguments, even as someone who supports socialized healthcare.
More interesting to me is the fact of pro-lifers who oppose abortion in all circumstances–even to save the life of the mother–who nonetheless support acts of indiscriminate war such as the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima that undoubtedly destroy innocent life, inside and outside the womb.
These peculiar pro-lifers–I’ve met more than a handful in my circles–will argue that the unborn child has an inalienable, absolute right to life that cannot be violated under any circumstances. Rejecting a consequentialist ethos, they oppose abortion even when the mother’s life is at stake. The ends do not justify the means, they would say. And yet, when it comes to acts of war (at least within a just war), the innocent person’s inviolable right to life goes out the door.
By supporting acts of indiscriminate war, by which I mean acts of war that fail to discriminate (altogether or adequately) between combatants and innocent people, they support the direct, intended killing of the innocent. Their defense of military strikes extends beyond those that target combatants with the unintended harming non-combatants and civilians, e.g., bombing a military target foreseeing the inevitability that some bombs will go astray. Their defense includes offenses directed again civilian populations, not for the sake of the civilians present, as if they desired their deaths, but rather in spite of them, believing their presence in the intentionally-targeted zone counts as a justifiable cost.
Such pro-lifers are, in my estimation, unwittingly conditionally pro-life. Their moral opposition to killing the unborn is relative to the techniques that take life and to the agents involved. Abortion is off the table, always and everywhere, but atomic bombs and other attacks that intentionally and directly obliterate innocent populations (including the unborn) may be morally acceptable. Much of this inconsistency may be traceable to confusion about the theory of just war or to misunderstandings and misapplications of moral principles such as double-effect. Amanda Marcotte would mention misogyny. Whatever its cause, the inconsistency discredits the pro-life argument. If the right-to-life activists are correct about the moral status of nascent life, then both abortion and indiscriminate warfare must be morally opposed. To oppose the former while accepting the latter suggest that one is not at all clear about the moral status in question.